Debate on Shores building rules heats up

By Dave Schwab

Some La Jolla Shores residents worry that “mansionization” — building large home where smaller ones once stood — could ruin the neighborhood so they are trying to figure out what could, or should, be done about it.

Others say the Shores rules are in place for a reason and protect property values, and some say it’s such an important topic it deserves a broader community conversation.

Rob Whittemore, a La Jolla Community Planning Association trustee, is leading a group of residents who are convinced overdevelopment needs to be nipped in the bud. So he has proposed a solution: Get the City Council to enforce citywide Floor Area Ratios (FARs) which he claims have already been approved — but not implemented — in the neighborhood.

That change could affect commercial, multi-family and visitor properties as well.

FARs are the mathematical relationship between the total floor area of structures on a lot to the size of the parcel, are based on a sliding scale proportionate to lot size. The rest of La Jolla and the city follow that formula.

Tim Golba, past LJCPA president and currently a city planning commissioner, said Whittmore’s request could only be honored “if the Shores (Planned District Ordinance) were silent on whether FARs apply. Then you would go to Chapter 13.”

That, he added, contains “all the regulations for anything citywide.” The document outlines “a mathematical calculation versus the Shores PDO which controls building size with stepped-in development and general conformity with other homes in the vicinity.”

But Golba, an architect, said the Shores PDO is not silent on that whether the ratios apply.

“It clearly states you’re allowed to build as long as it’s within the context of the adjoining neighbors and meets the requirements for maximum lot coverage and minimum landscape area,” Golba said.

But Whittemore argues that the standards in the Shores, outlined in the Planned District Ordinance (PDO), were intended to restrict single-story developments to 60 percent, 0.6, of lot coverage, a ratio compounded with each additional floor — rising to a 1.8 ratio for a three-story structure on the same lot.

Whittemore contends in the Shores there has been a failure to enforce the citywide ratios, which has allowed excessively large “McMansions” to be built in the neighborhood that are up to three times the size allowed elsewhere in San Diego.

Joe LaCava immediate past LJCPA president and still a trustee, said he doesn’t know that there is a general consensus on changing the Shores rules.

He characterized the debate as “potentially the biggest single land-use question in the Shores since the original adoption of the PDO (Planned District Ordinance governing development) in 1974.”

He said he is somewhat concerned that the process was rushed and is “something of that magnitude deserves an extra amount of community outreac,” perhaps a communitywide meeting the community can “find the right way to regulate itself.”

Last week, Whittemore’s cause gained traction when the planning group voted 8-4-2 to recommend that the City Council support more stringent citywide FARs in the Shores.

But Whittemore’s “solution” drew an adverse response from La Jolla architects Claude-Anthony Marengo and Golba, who both differed with Whittemore’s interpretation and approach.

Characterizing Whittemore’s stance as “oversimplified,” Marengo noted lot sizes in La Jolla Shores are not standardized as they are elsewhere in San Diego.

“La Jolla Shores is so eclectic, every plot is different in size unlike areas where all the properties are the same size,” he said.

Golba disagrees with Whittemore’s approach to revamping the ratio.

“If you want to fix the PDO — fix it with due process in black and white and in plain English,” he said. “Have a public review, notice it, update the PDO. Don’t do this — effectively trying to do a back-door update through the City Council.”

Planning group trustee Phil Merten, also an architect, offered his own note of caution: “People will consider FARs a downzoning of their properties and a depression of their property values.”

But there are those who share Whittemore’s conclusions, like Helen Boyden, chair of La Jolla’s Development Review Committee which makes recommendations on Shores residential projects.

“It is a problem,” she said. “You go down to the beach and you’ve got single-family homes on 90 percent of the lot. A (citywide) FAR certainly would limit that.”

Realtor and Shores resident Peggy Davis agrees dealing with “mansionization” is a pressing need.

“We need not have these massive, monster homes,” she said. ”Hopefully, we will be able to scale down.”